> Le Belle Immagini Kozena 4713342 [AT]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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W.A. MOZART (1756-1791)

From La Clemenza di Tito (1791)

"Parto, ma tu, ben mio" [5:59]
"Deh, per questo istante solo" [6:38]
From Le Nozze di Figaro (1786)

"Voi che sapete"
From Lucio Silla (1772)

"Il tenero momento"
From Idomeneo (1781)

"Il Padre adorato"
From La Finta Giardinera (1774)

"Va’pure ad altri in braccio"
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)

From Paride ed Elena (1770)

"Le belle immagini"
"O del mio dolce ardor bramato oggeto!"
From La Clemenza di Tito (1752)

"Se sento spirato sul volto"
Josef MYSLIVEČEK (1737 - 1781)

From Abramo ed Isacco (1776)

"Deh, parlate"
From Antigona (1773)

"Sarò qual è il torrente"
From L’Olimpiade (1778)

"Che non mi disse un di!"
"Più non so trovano"
Magdalena Ko˛ená, mezzo-soprano
Prague Philharmonia/Michel Swierczewski
Rec Prague, Rudolfinum, Dvorak Hall, 9/2001
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 471 334-2 [68:18]


Crotchet £12.50  AmazonUK   £8.99 AmazonUS

So lavish is the photographic spread for DG’s latest pin-up girl’s newest disc that you almost expect her hairdresser to be given a credit alongside her language coach. Magdalena on a boat! Magdalena in the town square! Magdalena looking like Gwenneth Paltrow!

Thankfully, none of this packaging palaver gets in the way of what is essentially a very musical disc, with a thoughtful selection of music, by three composers intimately connected with Ko˛ená’s Prague and Bohemia. This disc is dominated by Mozart and Gluck, two composers who mixed opera seria with a more natural and enlightened style. Early Mozart opera is indebted to Gluck, and the two composers’ music fits very well together – Gluck by no means losing out in the comparison.

DG are very definitely grooming Miss Ko˛ená for major artist status, and it appears that her initial releases have been chosen to show her strengths without exposing her to comparisons that would crush her reputation. Hence she has recorded less well known Handel, and a spectacularly good disc of Czech love songs. This disc eases her ever so-slightly towards the mainstream. There is still plenty of rare stuff, but the famous Figaro aria Voi Che Sapete is so well known that it is instantly obvious whether she can cut it or not. And the point is she can. She has a strong, expressive voice that has a pleasant tone and a beautiful range of dynamics and an excellent facility for getting between them. Her enunciation is good, and there is always a sense of drama about her singing. This sense of drama is well suited to the seria arias, but she can also pull of more light-hearted stuff. Her Voi Che Sapete might not be sufficiently masculine in the context of the opera, but it sounds beautiful here.

Of the rest of the disc, highlights are many. My favourite is the sublime "Se mai senti spirarti sul volto" from Gluck’s version of Clemenza di Tito. It is gorgeous music, Gluck outdoing Mozart in extracting human touches from Metastasio’s clunky libretto, and Ko˛ená brings to it a beautifully limpid style. The early Mozart arias are well worth hearing as well.

Least well known of these composers is Mysliveček, known to me only for his typically Czech wind harmoniemusik, jolly and pleasant music of the second or third rank. Poor old Mysliveček seems to have had a total bummer of a life – with no position and no home, he died with less money than his contemporary Mozart and, it goes without saying, less talent. He did apparently achieve some renown in Italian opera, and the three arias here (all fairly anguished affairs) are well worth listening to, not for any radical ideas, but for the joy of well crafted material. Ko˛ená gives committed and interesting performances.

The Prague Philharmonia is a new ensemble of young Czech musicians, playing in a fairly international style. It is a slight pity they don’t sound particularly Czech – that distinctive wind timbre is always enjoyable – but the playing is very fine and full of life, and makes an excellent accompaniment. The clarinet solos in the famous (Mozart) Clemenza aria "Parto, ma tu, ben mio" are particularly fine.

There is still much for Ko˛ená to learn – there is a certain rigidity in her voice and recent concert performances have by all accounts disappointed – but this is another beautiful collection of well-performed music. She has cornered off an obscure repertoire for herself, and has done it total justice. No doubt she will be pushed towards the bigger operatic roles in time, but this is a disc that can make us hopeful of her success.

Aidan Twomey



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